I just read Tim Robbin's open letter to Congress. Here are my 2 cents -- from a mom / choreographer / culture critic.
Watching television might not have been an option in my childhood without the following programs: Sesame Street, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, and Great Performances. When I was a child, in the 70s and early 80s, my mom, a born-again Christian woman, was vigilant about the television and radio programs I consumed. Once she was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently died, several years later, her influence faded and I watched what my friends watched -- 90201 and the like.
When my son was born in the 1990s, I was determined to give him some of the freedom and leeway around media consumption that I lacked growing up. However several months of Rug Rats and Pokemon and my sweet angel was a cartoon-crack addict. He would yell and scream if I had to turn the TV off -- even if the reason was so that he could visit a friend or go to the park. I did not recognize this child. My questioning, engaged, and creative boy was suddenly one of those kids that melted down every time I said "no." I began to limit how much 'junk TV' -- made-for-kids Cartoon Network he watched. I was a full-time graduate student by this point, but I engaged the help of neighbors and sitters and put a plan into action. We were all on board. It was an easy transition for the adults because ground-work had been laid from the beginning around food -- limited sugar, packaged foods, lots of fruits and veggies, were already part of his daily routine. This new Television limitation improved his behavior slightly, but did not entirely remedy the problem.
After one particularly emotional breakdown, I decided to channel my mother and blocked ALL of the 'kids channels' on our TV. I felt crazy, and I was sure this looked extreme to others. However, after a couple of weeks of watching only creative, educational, kid and adult friendly programs on Animal Planet, PBS, The Travel Channel, The History Channel and after taking time to listen to the radio together my son returned. It was as if I had given him a sedative and ADD medication in one dose. He was engaged, focused, and less stressed out.
I am not the only one witnessing such behavior changes in children. As sited by Norman Herr, Professor of Science Education at California State University, Northridge:
The American Psychiatric Association addressed this problem in its endorsement of National TV-Turnoff Week, stating, "We have had a long-standing concern with the impact of television on behavior, especially among children."
For those who would cut funding to the arts through eliminating NPR, PBS, and the NEA, I urge you to think not about the programs that you do not like and instead think of your childhoods, your kids, and grand kids. I watched an over-stimulated boy, living in New York City, whose school counselor told me to consider putting him on Ritalin, calm down and get excited about learning simply by replacing an hour or two or cartoons per day with an hour or two of creative and educational programming. We need art and creativity in our world and with the average American consuming 4 hours of TV a day, we need it to come by way of our televisions and computers. Funding PBS and the NEA is a heck of a lot cheaper and healthier than drugging this and future generations.
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